Marian Goodman Gallery presents an exhibition of new and recent works by Gerhard Richter that will inaugurate its new London gallery.
Consisting of over 40 works, with important bodies of new ‘Strip’, ‘Flow’ and ‘Doppelgrau’ paintings, the show will also include a large glass sculpture and a selection of key earlier pieces.
Over the past five years Richter has been primarily concerned with a series of paintings premised on systematically deconstructing a photograph of his own abstract oil on canvas from 1990. Revisiting an idea he first employed in his late-seventies project ‘128 Photographs of a Painting’, he divided the work’s surface into two vertical sections, then halved those halves, and so on, subjecting them repeatedly to a premeditated procedure he described simply as ‘dividing, mirroring, repeating’. At the point when this digital process had generated 4,096 infinitesimal vertical sections, Richter intervened with a rigorous selection process, re-imposing his subjective will and choosing particular preferred strips with which to continue working.
Following one further final halving and mirroring, he had each work printed to his desired scale, so that we might contemplate what have become remarkable horizontal, rhythmic fields of fine lines, oscillating with vibrations of colour, the largest of which stretches over ten metres, as seen on the gallery’s first floor. By tellingly entitling these unique works ‘Strip’ paintings, Richter is referring not to those lines, but both to the miniscule vertical strips they represent of their source and to the sense of physically ‘stripping’ – taking apart and dismantling his original painting. Of not only reinventing, but wholly paring down and fundamentally abstracting his own abstraction.
On contemplation, Richter‘s ‘Strip’ paintings distill the pictorial investigations of a 60-year career into a body of work that is wholly consistent with, and contingent on, everything that has preceded them. As photography once opened new pathways for him in the 1960s, digital technology has now added to the expansive territories of his work. By refuting established categorization, Richter has again been able to exploit one media to deconstruct the possibilities of another, arriving at unchartered and unprecedented new propositions. Although the final incarnation of his ‘Strip’ paintings are empirically pigment printed on paper through a mechanical means, the processes, choices and concerns are entirely those of the artist as they would be in the process of making a traditional painting – and the results are as radical and rewarding.
Another new territory through which Richter has reinvestigated his means of abstract painting, whilst undermining preconceptions of what it means for us to encounter them, are his ‘Flow’ paintings, a group of which are presented in one of the ground floor rooms of this exhibition. Their title refers to the gestural currents of enamel paint that have been frozen in motion at the moment Richter fixed a pane of glass directly to the surface of a painting in process on the floor – arresting a once fluid image at a precise chosen instance. His technique of pouring and manipulating paint captures a tension between chance versus the decisive gesture of the artist’s hand.
And, while the glass face of each work serves to magnify the materiality of the paint, it also removes the element of direct tactility and undermines how immediacy of touch is typically supposed to facilitate an expressive connection between painter and viewer. Richter leaves us instead with a smooth surface that not only distances us from subjective gesture, but also reflects ourselves and our surroundings.
If the latter is intrinsic to the experience of his ‘Flow’ paintings, in the four large diptychs Richter has presented in the main ground floor space, reflection has been employed almost entirely in lieu of mark-making in itself, which opens up fundamentally different readings of the monochrome. Each work juxtaposes two different shades of grey paint behind glass, hence their titles, ‘Doppelgrau [Double Grey]’.
Sculptural as well as pictorial, each diptych is mounted to a support that projects the picture plane forward off the wall towards the viewer, hovering in space. Their fields of pure grey betray no gesture, so they and the reflections of the architectural space and spectators around them, mean we absorb both tangible spatial division and subtle differentiation of colour simultaneously.
In addition to the new works in the show, Richter has punctuated and augmented the exhibition with a selection of paintings on canvas, glass and photographs made over the last 15 years which inform and re-contextualize his more recent pieces.